As I tenderly caressed each of the beautiful beads from the necklace, emotions within my heart welled up and burst within like the nightly fireworks that light up the skies of Disneyland every single night. The atmosphere had been ripe with the sounds of laughter, chatter, music, dancing, speeches. There even an impromptu gift of hand made gift of hand crafted beads to the volunteers who had spent 6 days building the new wing of the school; I was caught off guard when one of the village women also placed a necklace on me. That necklace would serve forever after as a reminder of the villagers gratitude to not only the volunteers who built the new classroom but me as well who came to teach english to them.
Of all the excursions I've done whether it would be canopy ziplining; piranha fishing; searching for poison dart frogs etc. I would have to say that my favorite excursion was one that Tahuayo Lodge doesn't offer on a regular basis. And that was my excursion to the inaugaration ceremony of the new wing of the school that had been completed by Be The Change Volunteers.
In 2013 when I first arrived here there was only one building that housed the school. There was only one teacher for all the grades who would have to go to one side of the room and teach primary school and cross to the other side of the school to teach secondary. In 2014 for first time ever, Be The Change Volunteers began getting involved with the people of Chino village and built their very first classroom of what is now the secondary school. The same organization would return the very next year to build another classroom. And this year in 2016 they returned to build a third classroom. So as you can imagine what a surprise for me to return 3 yrs after my first trip and find that Chino had gone from one building with one teacher to having a seperate building for primary and secondary and now had a principal and seperate teachers for all the grade levels.
I arrived at the village on Inauguration day with a boat filled with volunteers who were putting the finishing touches on the construction work that they had been working on for the last 5 days. Upon reaching the secondary school, all words in both english and spanish left me. Where one week ago there was nothing but a cement foundation, there were now walls and a roof and a fully fledged classroom that was almost ready to go. It is important to note that the foundation had actually be laid by an earlier group from the same organization who did the ground work so that this second group could come and finalize the construction work.
But I didn't have time to gawk for too long because I was hailed by a group of teachers from the school who beckoned me to come chat with them. I should maybe give some backstory to this. Basically when I arrived at the lodge and began teaching in Chino, I did so well that pretty soon word got out and the demand for english classes went way beyond teaching kids. The employees a the lodge become interested in lessons and after watching me teach, the english professor in Chino said that a group of teachers would like lessons from me on a regular basis.
So I was introduced to the group of teachers I would be teaching and they wasted no time wanting to practice english with me. Lucky for them in my messenger bag I happened to have "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss. I had made a decision to bring it along just in case people wanted english classes spur of the moment while the construction was going on. It turned out to be a wise decision indeed. Within 25 mins of reading this Dr. Seuss classic it became clear that their english had improved exponentially. Pleased with the results, all the teachers unanimously agreed that I am indeed a marvellous english teacher and looked forward my classes with eagerness.
One of the most beautiful sights I saw that day is how an entire village works together right down to the youngest generation. The women on one side began chopping up a plant that the locals named Yuca (in reality it is Manioc) to be cooked that would go alongside fish and rice as part of our lunch. On the subject of Manioc, I would like to report that I got my very first taste of a fermented drink made from Manioc called "Masato" and was instantly converted into a fan. The children obeyed any call to help without any questioning, talking back or attitude. Whether they were being asked to pick up leaves in bunches or to help the adults, they always came willingly and quickly. Although it is quite a bit of a culture shock for me seeing all the village kids walking around with machetes and being so adept at using them. Perhaps one day in exchange for english lessons on four letter curse words they can give me my first lessons on how to use a machete :P
If there was one word in the whole english language that I would pick to describe the feeling in the air it would be solidarity. It was indeniable the kinship that was growing between Angels of the Amazon and Be The Change Volunteers. In case you weren't aware, Angels of the Amazon is the non-profit charitable organization from the founders of Amazonia Expeditions to aid the village of Chino. There wasn't a single doubt in anyones mind that this was a partnership that will last years to come resulting in an explosion of more buildings and projects, thus increasing the quality of life for the jungle communities.
The volunteers who came had no idea that I was coming to teach and I had no idea they were coming to build. Yet the beauty of it is that upon meeting me they realized the wing they just build would be something that benefits me directly as an english teacher. Each one of our individual philantrophical efforts wound up playing off of each other and thus the volunteers and I got woven into each others lives in a way that leaves me breathless and speechless......